Aired: March 23rd, 2010
[Cultural Learnings' Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective - for more information, and the complete list as it goes up, click here.]
Last year, in making a similar list, I put Battlestar Galactica’s “Daybreak” on it, and as one would expect it proved somewhat divisive. The fact of the matter is that I loved the poetry of the BSG finale while acknowledging some of its shortcuts, and in many ways the controversy surrounding it only made it more likely to find its way onto a list like this one; my investment becomes stronger when I feel as if there is a groundswell to reject the finale entirely based largely on principles of television viewership which I don’t entirely understand. This is not to say that I start a crusade to change their minds, but rather that I become very interested in discovering where they’re coming from.
It’s almost scary how much of a carbon copy the reaction to “The End” has been for me. Last week, when Dan Harmon snuck in a dig at Lost’s sense of “payoff” in the Community Christmas episode, watching my Twitter feed’s reaction was a microcosm of larger opinions: some laughed along, the joke confirming their pre-existing dismissal of Lost’s conclusion, while others became legitimately angry at the off-hand dig. Personally, I laughed, but only because I don’t feel as if I am particularly defensive of “The End” (even if I totally understand why some people are).
I loved “The End,” which should be obvious considering that it’s on this list, but I love the fact that people hated it perhaps even more. I think that Lost, as a television series, will be remembered not so much for its story but for how its story was told; as a fan, this disappoints me, but as a critic and scholar it makes the series’ legacy far more important to the future of television. “The End” was a finale that was never going to please everyone, and so Lindelof and Cuse’s decision to not even bother trying was admirable, reckless, and ultimately one of the most affecting episodes of television of the past year.
The sixth season of Lost has problems – while there were still standout episodes, all of them seemed to be caught up in the “mystery” of the Flash Sideways. Through its first three seasons, the show’s mystery structure operated on the same level for the characters as it did for the audience, but the fourth season changed that with the introduction of the flash forwards. However, there the mystery was clearly defined: it was Point A to Point B, and the show was simply filling in the gaps to figure out how our heroes would become the Oceanic Six.
By comparison, the Flash Sideways were mystery without purpose, at least on the surface. And what makes me admire “The End” so much is that it actually goes so far as to suggest a purpose: throughout the season, I think I had decided that I didn’t care what the Flash Sideways were, and I was just going to take them as thematic narrative counterpoints which would shed light on the ongoing action, but Lindelof and Cuse chose to at least broadly define their function. It was a ballsy move, one which I think everyone needs to respect even if they didn’t care for the result.
I still sort of consider the Flash Sideways more a device than a reality, a convenient way to give John Locke a proper goodbye after the ignominious circumstances surrounding his death and to help exaggerate the shift in Claire’s character during the whole Squirrel Baby period, but that it was given a deeper allegorical meaning was a huge risk. And when I think back on the sixth season now, I find myself struggling to actually put the pieces together, to figure out just how the various events in the season coincide with numerous elements within its final arc, and so in some ways that risk does create inconsistencies within the series’ narrative.
And yet, while it may not have given the season the cohesion we desired, I never once felt betrayed by “The End.” While some reject the finale for its failure to adequately respond to the series’ central mysteries, I embrace it for very much the same reason. While I spent parts of the season more fascinated than entertained by the series, with episodes like “Across the Sea” proving more interesting to write about than to actually watch, the finale turned off the mystery: it was about parts coming together, about characters realizing the role they were meant to play or the role they had played in their past. It was about the joy, elation and tragedy of community, of the sacrifices we make to protect those we love and the ways in which the life we lead will carry on with us into our future (whether that future is a light-soaked afterlife or just, you know, next week).
Some have claimed that efforts to differentiate between mystery and character on this show are reductive: you can’t say it was just about the characters because the show clearly functioned as a mystery and used it to drive the plot. Whereas others have claimed that to reduce the show to its mysteries is just as reductive, and that dismissing characters (and simply making them machinations of that plot) is equally problematic. Perhaps what makes “The End” so divisive is that it so clearly tried to define what Lost was: it was about the experience, about the things these men and women went through on that crazy island, and about the intersection of various narratives of life and love amidst a mythological framework. This might not be your Lost, but it’s what Lost was to the people who made it, and seeing that was as much of an ending as I honestly needed.
And while the critic in me reveled in the post-episode dissections and the divergent responses to Cuse and Lindelof’s decision to indulge in spirituality, the fan in me was just really happy. Even as I write this piece, and even as I find that the sixth season is more incomprehensible than I even remember it being, never has it felt like those moments of emotional connection experienced within the finale have been taken away from me. The notion that “The End” ruined the entire experience of watching the show for is the one response that I simply do not understand, the one that comes closest to shifting me away from my critical objectivity into a vehement defense of the series’ motives.
However, even if it did ruin the entire show for some people, this only proves what this post most broadly represents: “The End” was one of the most powerful episodes of the 2010, love it or hate it, and for that I believe it should be commended.